Throughout Germany’s history, World War II particularly stands out for Americans. What many may not know are the steps Germans have made to make amends with their past.
In 1985, parliament mandated it is illegal to refute the Holocaust took place and, similar to more than 15 other countries, it’s a punishable offense.
Additionally, since 1996, Jan. 27 is observed as a day of Remembrance for the Victims of National Socialism, where 6 million European-Jews were murdered from 1941-1945.
The annual date of Jan. 27 was chosen because the Soviet army liberated Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp, where an estimated 1.1 million people were systematically killed due to their race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation and disability.
Memorials for victims can be found within the Kaiserslautern Military Community and beneath your feet as you stroll to the mall. One such memorial is the Kaiserslautern Synagogue. It was erected in 1886, and its Moorish-Byzantine features made it a memorable piece of architecture within the Palatinate region.
Then, 52 years later the Nazi Regime destroyed the synagogue the summer prior to the November-nights of broken glass called “Kristallnacht,” where thousands of Jewish homes and businesses were vandalized. This night marked the violent turn of the Third Reich’s power from prejudicial rhetoric to the Nazis’ aggressive measures of deportation and euthanasia which would culminate European-Jewish history as we know it.
Every year, Rhineland-Pfalz residents gather around the partially-reconstructed memorial site to mourn the loss of their community with a wreath laying ceremony at the Synagogue Square for Remembrance for the Victims of National Socialism.
Citizens and tourists alike can also find mini brass plates chiseled into neighborhood sidewalks, weighted with the names of former Kaiserslautern residents’ who were deported and killed at concentration camps.
Whether you’re walking to the mall or pushing your infant over the cobblestone, these brass ‘stumbling stones’ are just one way in which modern citizens aim to remember the millions of lives lost.
In 2017, the former Foreign Minister, and now President of Germany, Frank-Walter Steinmeier stated, “The name Auschwitz and this day remind us of all the death camps and of the National Socialist persecution and killing machine – a terrible, unforgotten and ever‑present chapter in the history of our country.
“We cannot change or undo what has occurred,” Steinmeier continued. “We do, however, have both a duty and an obligation to recall the ultimate betrayal of all civilized values that was the Shoah, to commemorate the victims, and to assume our present‑day responsibility in this connection.”
Approximately 25 other countries also commemorate the Holocaust on this day. While in the U.S., it’s known as Holocaust Remembrance Day, annually celebrated in late April.
As service members and their families saunter through the ‘”strassen,” it’s important to take a moment and recognize the hardships and contributions-both past and present.
Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor who fought for his life at Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps, wrote in his memoir, “To forget would be not only dangerous but offensive; to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.”